Labour attacks Osborne over "£2bn tax cut" for the banks

The party releases new figures showing that the banks have paid £1.9bn less in tax than David Cameron promised after cuts to corporation tax.

Parliament officially returns from its Easter recess today and Labour's number crunchers are already causing mischief for George Osborne. The party has accused the Chancellor of handing banks a £2bn tax cut after releasing new figures showing that the coalition's bank levy has raised significantly less than expected in the last two years. 

David Cameron pledged that the levy would raise £2.5bn a year and offset the gains to banks from the cuts in corporation tax. But figures from the OBR show that the levy raised just £1.6bn in 2012-13, while banks received a corporation tax cut of £200m, leaving the Treasury with a net gain of £1.4bn - £1.1bn less than promised. The previous year (2011-12), the levy raised £1.8bn, while the banks gained £100m from the corporation tax cut, a net gain of £1.7bn, or £800m less than promised. In total, then, the banks have paid £3.1bn in tax, £1.9bn less than pledged by Cameron (see table below).

 

2010-11

2011-12

2012-13

Labour bank bonus tax (£bn)

3.5

n/a

n/a

Tory-led Government bank levy (£bn)

n/a

1.8

1.6

Corporation Tax rate (%)

28

26

24

Corporation tax cut for banks from 2010-11 level (£bn)

n/a

0.1

0.2

Net amount raised from banks (£bn)

3.5

1.7

1.4

Amount raised compared to £2.5bn promised by govt (£bn)

n/a

-0.8

-1.1

Chris Leslie, the shadow financial secretary to the Treasury, plans to raise the figures when the Commons debates the second reading of the Finance Bill later today. He said: 

On top of last week’s tax cut for millionaires, this is effectively a tax cut of nearly £2 billion for the banks at a time when millions of working people are being forced to pay the price for this government’s economic failure.

Whether it’s on tax or watering down reforms to separate retail and investment banks, David Cameron and George Osborne have repeatedly failed to stand up to the vested interests of the banks.  

Labour is still urging the coalition to repeat Alistair Darling's bank bonus tax, which raised £3.5bn in 2010-11, in order to fund a jobs guarantee for every young person unemployed for more than a year (a measure the party is particularly keen to highlight as the benefit cap and other welfare reforms take effect). 

The Treasury has responded by stating that the "fragility of global financial markets" means it is unsurprising that the levy has raised less than by expected and by promising to review it this year "to ensure it is operating efficiently". 

As for the bank bonus tax, we can expect Osborne to point out that Darling himself described it as a "one-off" on the grounds that "the very people you are after here are very good at getting out of these things and will find all sorts of imaginative ways of avoiding it in the future". To most voters, however, that will sound like an argument for tackling avoidance, not for cutting taxes. And the banks' toxic reputation, combined with the image of a government devoted to the rich, means this remains fertile political territory for Labour. 

In the last two years, the banks have paid £3.1bn in tax, £1.9bn less than the government promised. Photograph: Getty Images.

George Eaton is political editor of the New Statesman.

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Brexit will hike energy prices - progressive campaigners should seize the opportunity

Winter is Coming. 

Friday 24th June 2016 was a beautiful day. Blue sky and highs of 22 degrees greeted Londoners as they awoke to the news that Britain had voted to leave the EU.  

Yet the sunny weather was at odds with the mood of the capital, which was largely in favour of Remain. And even more so with the prospect of an expensive, uncertain and potentially dirty energy future. 

For not only are prominent members of the Leave leadership well known climate sceptics - with Boris Johnson playing down human impact upon the weather, Nigel Farage admitting he doesn’t “have a clue” about global warming, and Owen Paterson advocating scrapping the Climate Change Act altogether - but Brexit looks set to harm more than just our plans to reduce emissions.

Far from delivering the Leave campaign’s promise of a cheaper and more secure energy supply, it is likely that the referendum’s outcome will cause bills to rise and investment in new infrastructure to delay -  regardless of whether or not we opt to stay within Europe’s internal energy market.

Here’s why: 

1. Rising cost of imports

With the UK importing around 50% of our gas supply, any fall in the value of sterling are likely to push up the wholesale price of fuel and drive up charges - offsetting Boris Johnson’s promise to remove VAT on energy bills.

2. Less funding for energy development

Pulling out of the EU will also require us to give up valuable funding. According to a Chatham House report, not only was the UK set to receive €1.9bn for climate change adaptation and risk prevention, but €1.6bn had also been earmarked to support the transition to a low carbon economy.

3.  Investment uncertainty & capital flight

EU countries currently account for over half of all foreign direct investment in UK energy infrastructure. And while the chairman of EDF energy, the French state giant that is building the planned nuclear plant at Hinkley Point, has said Brexit would have “no impact” on the project’s future, Angus Brendan MacNeil, chair of the energy and climate select committee, believes last week’s vote undermines all such certainty; “anything could happen”, he says.

4. Compromised security

According to a report by the Institute for European Environmental Policy (the IEEP), an independent UK stands less chance of securing favourable bilateral deals with non-EU countries. A situation that carries particular weight with regard to Russia, from whom the UK receives 16% of its energy imports.

5. A divided energy supply

Brexiteers have argued that leaving the EU will strengthen our indigenous energy sources. And is a belief supported by some industry officials: “leaving the EU could ultimately signal a more prosperous future for the UK North Sea”, said Peter Searle of Airswift, the global energy workforce provider, last Friday.

However, not only is North Sea oil and gas already a mature energy arena, but the renewed prospect of Scottish independence could yet throw the above optimism into free fall, with Scotland expected to secure the lion’s share of UK offshore reserves. On top of this, the prospect for protecting the UK’s nascent renewable industry is also looking rocky. “Dreadful” was the word Natalie Bennett used to describe the Conservative’s current record on green policy, while a special government audit committee agreed that UK environment policy was likely to be better off within the EU than without.

The Brexiteer’s promise to deliver, in Andrea Leadsom’s words, the “freedom to keep bills down”, thus looks likely to inflict financial pain on those least able to pay. And consumers could start to feel the effects by the Autumn, when the cold weather closes in and the Conservatives, perhaps appropriately, plan to begin Brexit negotiations in earnest.

Those pressing for full withdrawal from EU ties and trade, may write off price hikes as short term pain for long term gain. While those wishing to protect our place within EU markets may seize on them, as they did during referendum campaign, as an argument to maintain the status quo. Conservative secretary of state for energy and climate change, Amber Rudd, has already warned that leaving the internal energy market could cause energy costs “to rocket by at least half a billion pounds a year”.

But progressive forces might be able to use arguments on energy to do even more than this - to set out the case for an approach to energy policy in which economics is not automatically set against ideals.

Technological innovation could help. HSBC has predicted that plans for additional interconnectors to the continent and Ireland could lower the wholesale market price for baseload electricity by as much as 7% - a physical example of just how linked our international interests are. 

Closer to home, projects that prioritise reducing emission through tackling energy poverty -  from energy efficiency schemes to campaigns for publicly owned energy companies - may provide a means of helping heal the some of the deeper divides that the referendum campaign has exposed.

If the failure of Remain shows anything, it’s that economic arguments alone will not always win the day and that a sense of justice – or injustice – is still equally powerful. Luckily, if played right, the debate over energy and the environment might yet be able to win on both.

 

India Bourke is the New Statesman's editorial assistant.